Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 1 2009, page 11-30.
‘To be in control’
The road to a good psychosocial working environment, earning and innovation?
The concept of control has been central
in the conceptualisation of psychosocial
working environment for 30 years since
Robert Karasek developed the Demand/Control
model in the 1970s. An overwhelming
occupational epidemiological documentation
has been established since then, relating
risks to a low degree of control.
According to Karasek’s concept of control,
‘to be in control’ includes a certain degree of
autonomy in work (what Karasek calls task
authority) and opportunities for development
of personal capability (skill discretion).
Basically the concept of control is founded
on the premises that man is capable of taking
care of her or his own life and our common
life. Furthermore, to prevent people
from do so is a violation of basic human
needs, which leads to illnesses and death.
The concept of control has been challenged
by other concepts of psychosocial
working environment: quality of management,
the relation between effort and reward,
and ability and opportunity for coping.
In the article it is argued that control is a
perspective that also to a certain extent can
include management, reward and coping.
There is however a need for development
of the concept of control. Robert Karasek’s
concept was closely connected to the individual
job. The associational aspect of control
was underestimated (even though social
support is included in the D/C model).
The need for development of the concept
of control is increasing, because there is a
current trend in working life to create autonomy
in the individual job, but at the
same time to increase standardisation and
management control, not least through
computer based work systems. The current
challenge for the concept of control is illustrated
by four case studies from the fi nancial
sector. Here de-bureaucratization and
team organisation have been an important
part of the organizational development in
the last decade. However, at the same time
work has been standardised, and performance
is controlled in sophisticated ways.
A development which in the 1970s and
1980s would be identifi ed as steps towards
increased control, today perhaps involves
steps which actually decrease control.